Tag: Diversity

Building Brilliance With … Brittany Bell: Mentoring, supporting diverse voices

Brittany Bell (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About this series: Building Brilliance With … is a periodic Q&A in which we shine a light on a Lawrence University staff member whose work helps support Lawrence’s students and the university’s mission. 

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Brittany Bell, Ed.D., is all about the student journey.

As assistant dean of students and director of the Diversity and Intercultural Center (D&IC) at Lawrence University, Bell is an important resource for students. In the D&IC, located in Memorial Hall, Bell and her staff provide a welcoming, inclusive, and creative gathering space for students of diverse backgrounds.

She came to Lawrence in early 2019 after six and half years on the staff at St. Norbert College, where she served as assistant director of multicultural student services and then student success librarian.

Since arriving at Lawrence, she has raised the profile of the D&IC, remodeled the space to make it a welcoming place where students can gather, study, and socialize, launched educational programming, and has become a valuable mentor for students and student organizations on campus.

Bell, the mother of three girls with her spouse, Chris, contributed a chapter to the recently published book, Teaching Beautiful Brilliant Black Girls. It was published by SAGE Publications and came out earlier this year. Her chapter, co-written by Ramycia McGhee, is on colorism in the classroom.

She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, a master’s from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and a doctorate from Edgewood College.

Find more Lawrence staff profiles here.

Outside of work, Bell and her family operate the De Pere-based God’s Purpose Apparel, designing and selling clothing and accessories that feature motivational and faith-inspired sayings, with monies being donated to nonprofits serving the homeless community.

We caught up with Bell for a Q&A to talk about her work on campus and what inspires her.

What’s excites you the most about the work you do with Lawrence students?

It’s getting to know our students, learning more about their stories and aspirations. As I listen, I capture those first moments and then do what I can to support them along their journey. It’s exciting to do it all over again year after year.

As director of the Diversity and Intercultural Center and assistant dean of students, you play an important role in our students’ college journeys beyond the classroom. Why is that so critical to their Lawrence experience?

The best way to describe it is I am an ally, mentor, and I serve as a resource for students. Part of my role is leading the Diversity and Intercultural Center (D&IC). The D&IC is a space where students can come together. We promote programming that educates and encourages conversation, and celebrations that embrace culture and identity in oneself and others. The space and staff at the D&IC provide an inclusive environment for students to thrive personally, socially, and academically. An opportunity we’ve created is the Program for Leadership of Underrepresented Students (PLUS), a peer mentoring program that assists students during their first year.

What drew you to a career working in higher education?

My own experience. During my time in college I learned how significant it was to have college leaders and mentors who were supportive during my journey. One day after completing my internship at a news station, I remember sitting in my mentor’s office. It was the end of my junior year, and after the internship experience, I decided I no longer wanted to be a news reporter. I didn’t know what to do and felt like I had wasted time and money. My mentor sat with me and we talked, and it was that day that I learned that I had options, ones that included me doing what I loved—letting my light shine bright and helping students through their journey. 

What did the past year and a half—the pandemic, the social unrest—teach you about the work you and your staff do?

The pandemic and social unrest has magnified the importance of all voices being heard. We learned how important it is to invite peers, colleagues, and friends to join us on this journey as we continue work toward creating change in our community.

What is one thing you do away from campus that helps you recharge your batteries or otherwise brings you joy?

One thing I do when I’m away from campus, besides being with my spouse and children, that brings me joy is when I’m designing. As an artist, I’m always amazed by the process from start to finish. I get to listen to the creativity from others and I take their ideas and form it into something wonderful. Since I was 5 years old, art has always been my go-to, and now when I see people wearing apparel or using business projects I’ve designed, it brings me joy knowing I’m making an impact in multiple ways.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

2 Minutes With … Jasaad Graves: Artwork to inspire in a space where bonds are built

Jasaad Graves ’20 stands next to the artwork he created for the Diversity and Intercultural Center, located in Memorial Hall. The artwork features portraits of inspiring figures, including Maya Angelou.

2 Minutes With … is a series of short features to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrentians on and off campus. Find more 2 Minutes With … features here.

Story by Awa Badiane ’21

The Diversity and Intercultural Center (DIC) is a favorite space on the Lawrence University campus for Jasaad Graves ’20.

 “The space is usually where I come to do my art,” said Graves, a studio art major from Columbus, Georgia.

Thus, it was an ideal connection when the DIC received a grant to revamp the space to better represent and connect with the students who regularly spend time there. 

Graves created a series of portraits featuring people of color who have been important to the students of color who use the DIC space in Memorial Hall — Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, and Nelson Mandela, among others.

“I felt like it was needed,” said Graves. “I felt like we needed something, even if it wasn’t done by me, I felt like we needed something done by the students, just to help represent the people who are constantly in the space and value the space.” 

For the love of art

The DIC project is a continuation of the creative journey Graves started long before he got to Lawrence.

“I started drawing from a very young age,” said Graves. “I probably decided I like drawing around first grade, maybe.  But I decided to start taking it serious around fifth grade.”  

Graves has been featured in various galleries on campus including the Black Student Union’s Cultural Expressions Art Show and exhibitions in the Wriston Art Center.

With Graves always being in the DIC creating art, the staff didn’t have to look far to select the student they wanted to create art for the space.  

“We were looking for a Lawrence student of color to help make the DIC an inclusive and empowering space by creating art of people who students of color feel inspired by,” said Adona Lauriano ’21, student resource coordinator at the DIC. “Out of all the people we interviewed, Jasaad’s portfolio revealed he had what it took to pull off an amazing job.”

Connections beyond art

Graves is a defensive end and captain on the Lawrence University football team, and he’s an active member of the Black Student Union (BSU) and Brother to Brother, both student organizations.

He said he puts an emphasis on showing leadership when fostering important connections with students of color across campus.  

“In everything I listed, they all kind of serve as a safe haven for members of the color community on campus here at Lawrence,” said Graves. “Even on the football team, a majority of our players come from all kinds of different backgrounds.”  

What’s next?

The senior would like to continue creating art in some form after he leaves Lawrence. 

“I’ve always wanted to go into product design,” said Graves. “I know since I’ve been here, I’ve focused a lot more on portraiture and graphite and marker drawings. So hopefully I’ll be making more of a push toward digital art and things like that.” 

Awa Badiane ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.

2 Minutes With … Awa Badiane: Embracing leadership, celebrating diversity

Portrait of Awa Badiane
Awa Badiane

Two student writers, Awa Badiane and Isabella Mariani, have joined the Communications staff and will begin writing a series of stories — 2 Minutes With … — to introduce us to the passions and interests of Lawrentians on and off campus. To get it started, we asked Awa to write about Isabella and Isabella to write about Awa.

Story by Isabella Mariani ’21

“I like making connections throughout campus,” says Awa Badiane ’21. “You get to meet a lot of different people.”

It’s true. The sophomore is a familiar face on the Lawrence campus. And it didn’t take her long to get involved.

She was elected president of the Black Student Union, or BSU, before she finished her freshman year. The student organization works to promote cultural diversity and unity through education and social activism.

“Black students and other students of color on campus need a space where they can fully be themselves and be around people who can connect with certain aspects of their experience,” she says of the need for BSU to be active and accessible on campus.

Did you know?

Awa, a government major from Harlem, came to Lawrence via the Posse Foundation, a scholarship program that looks to identify future leaders among students of diverse backgrounds. High school students who show leadership potential are recruited from 10 participating U.S. cities. Lawrence partners with the Posse Foundation.

Awa remains tight with the nine other Posse students from her class.

“Not only do I get to be part of a very large group of leaders nationwide, I get to be part of the larger Posse community on campus,” Awa says. “It’s also nice to be recognized for my leadership skills.”

A passion to connect

She joined BSU early in her freshman year. Then, when it came time to elect a new club president, Awa stepped up and was elected. 

 “I was honestly very surprised because I was only a freshman, but at the same time I was excited because of having the opportunity to implement all the ideas I had,” she says.

Awa proposed the creation of a safe space complete with arts and crafts, a fashion show, a day of service and the first Excellence Ball, which launched during winter term as a lead-in to the annual People of Color Empowerment Week.

“We try to implement the encouragement of diversity in all of our events,” Awa said.

For Awa, BSU is a great avenue to share her ideas and follow her passions. But, like involvement in other campus activities, it’s also a great way to meet people and develop meaningful relationships.

“It’s important that it forces me to get out and talk to people,” Awa says.

Isabella Mariani ’21 is a student writer in the Communications office.